Electric Road Trip

The problem that stumps Calif.'s top EV researchers

California may be the nation's whiz kid on electric vehicle policy, but its own top researchers think the state may be starting to push up against the limit of what it can do to boost sales.

The Electric Road Trip swung by the city of Davis yesterday to meet with a group of doctoral students, professors and program managers at the Plug-In Hybrid & Electric Vehicle Research Center.

Housed at the University of California's Institute of Transportation Studies, the center is one of the nation's top research institutions for EV policy. California's legislators and regulators cite its work. Its researchers sit on consortia, accept funding and analyze data from virtually everyone with a hand in the EV world, including industry and federal agencies.

Six researchers there gave us a roundup of some of their recently published studies and discussed common barriers to adoption in California.

One of the barriers that caught my ear was studied by associate researcher Ken Kurani in a paper this spring, which showed how little most Californians know about electric cars and the raft of subsidies created by the state to support sales.

In recent years, the state government has passed policies that, in some cases, can knock $10,000 off the price of a new EV. A small percentage of Californians — fewer than 10% — have learned about them and snapped them up.

But in a survey carried out in 2017, Kurani found that nearly four out of five households had given "little to no consideration to any type of EV," and over the three years prior, consumer awareness of the incentives, or recognition of EV models, hadn't increased at all.

"None of what the state is doing is really ringing anybody's bell," said Kurani.

Could the state reach its 2030 goal of getting 5 million EVs on the road? "We don't get to 5 million unless we get the other 90-some percent of people to pay attention," he said.

The auto industry has said that state governments need to take a bolder lead in promoting electrification. In June 2018, for example, the Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers pointed the finger at the nine East Coast states that follow California's zero-emissions program, faulting them for not providing enough incentives or new charging infrastructure.

The center's researchers pointed out that those things hadn't exactly turned on a lightbulb for most Californians.

Electric Road Trip

E&E News reporters take a 6,000-mile road trip in an electric vehicle to explore how the switch from gas to electric transportation will change the economy, environment and daily life of America.
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